So I’m the type of blogger that likes dwelling on the past. I have no idea what I really want to do with this blog yet, but I do know I’d like it to be a blog that shines a light on all areas of country music. Old, new, mainstream, independent….you get it. I’m also a sucker for lists as well. Saving Country Music posted a list back in 2013 of mainstream country artists that were worth your time and (possibly?) money.
2013 was certainly an interesting year for country music given the onslaught of bro-country, not that I’m telling you anything you didn’t already know anyway. However, I was thinking about the list just the other day, and considering it was written in 2013 (and thus is a little outdated), I thought I would spice it up a bit for the current day, since even though there is still A LOT of shit out there right now, the mainstream is also doing mighty fine for acts with some legitimate substance behind them. I’ll start with the acts he mentioned back in that piece –
Kellie Pickler – Really, it’s hard to argue with this pick in 2017. Kellie has been relatively quiet since 2013 with her most recent album coming from that year with The Woman I Am. Still, while it’s hard to argue for any reasons why Kellie should remain on this list, it’s also hard to argue why she shouldn’t still be on this list, especially considering 100 Proof was a killer album (in my mind of course).
Easton Corbin – Perhaps the most debatable artist on this list. I really enjoyed Easton’s first two albums. Sure, were they all that smart with their writing or evolved country music in any way shape or form? No, but I’ll be damned if they weren’t enjoyable for what they were – solid slices of enjoyable neo-traditional country music. Then 2015 happened and that album, It’s About To Get Real, an album that I found to be a real bore outside of a few tracks. His new single is interesting. “A Girl Like You” isn’t really a good song, but it’s trying to be country at least, even if the lyrics of it suck. Would I personally put Easton on this list right now? No, but I’m also hoping to be surprised with his new album.
Kacey Musgraves – Kacey has absolutely earned her place on this list. Hell, I’d argue she’s only gotten better since 2013, as I was one of the few to think that Pageant Material over Same Trailer Different Park. Still wouldn’t say I’m blown away by her just yet, but she’s definitely one of the best choices out there, especially if all you know are artists on the radio (and let’s face it, is Kacey really even mainstream anymore in terms of artistry?)
The Mavericks – Well, by definition this band isn’t really mainstream anymore anyway. I wouldn’t personally put them here. They just haven’t really done it for me outside of a few 90’s singles and their 2013 album In Time. Still, if you like them more power to you.
Ashley Monroe – Like Kacey, Ashley hasn’t blown me out of the water either, but for mainstream country she’s a hell of a leader for the genre.
Gary Allan – Ha! Damn, I loved you back in the day Gary, still do. But I love 1999 Gary Allan and “Smoke Rings In The Dark”, or especially 2005 Gary Allan. 2017 Gary Allan? Eh… It’s hard to really say where Gary’s going next after the failure of “Hangover Tonight” and “Do You Wish It Was Me?”, easily his worst two songs ever. I mean, in terms of overall impact, yeah I’d still put him here, but his placement sure as hell isn’t as strong as it was in 2013.
Jamey Johnson – I know, I know, Jamey’s going through some rough patches. Hell, he’s no stranger to them. Still though, I want that damn album. He definitely still belongs here, but there is essentially nothing additional to add here since 2013.
Zac Brown Band – This is another tricky case. I freaking love these guys. Their first three albums were absolutely amazing, and that EP they did with Dave Grohl wasn’t too shabby either. I wasn’t too wild about Jekyll + Hyde, although it did manage to grow on me a lot. I still can’t really forgive them for sending “Beautiful Drug” to number one though. That’s a no-no. But hey, their new single is pretty good, and considering their new material is being produced by Dave Cobb, there’s potential here, and for that, I definitely wouldn’t remove them just yet.
Dierks Bentley – Even at the time, Trigger only noted that Dierks “sometimes” belongs on this list, and while I think that’s a little too harsh, I get where’s he coming from. Many would definitely argue that Dierks belongs nowhere near this list at this point, and that’s fair. For me though, I didn’t hate Black, and while it was a huge disappointment, I would only say….put him on probation so to speak.
So who else would I add? (Note: I’m not adding additional pictures at this point since WordPress has a storage limit that I don’t exactly want to use up yet. Therefore, I’ve included links to pictures of the artists should you want to look at them)
Chris Stapleton – I mean duh…he belonged on the list in 2013 really, but even bloggers didn’t notice him at the time. Not a knock on you guys (if someone reads this), just saying, shit happens. I wouldn’t say I’m blown away by Traveller, but the dude has a hell of a voice, and I’m definitely looking forward to May 5th for his new release.
Brothers Osborne – These guys aren’t really my personal cup of tea but they are a good alternative as well as a fresh face for mainstream country music in terms of style and attitude. I’m interested to see where these guys go.
Brandy Clark – To think, you couldn’t call Brandy “mainstream” in 2013 considering she A.) wasn’t on a major label at the time, and B.) her album 12 Stories was about as far away from mainstream as you could get. Now, a lot of people have criticized her more contemporary leanings on her last album, Big Day In A Small Town, but I happen to think Brandy is kicking ass in all areas, and if there was someone I could REALLY get behind here, it’s Ms. Clark.
Eric Church and Miranda Lambert – I’m putting these two together since they were technically mentioned in Trigger’s article, just more along the lines of honorable mentions. If anything though, I’d argue that both artists have eclipsed that by releasing two of their best albums over the past two years. They’re expanding creatively, and you best believe that makes me a happy music fan.
Tim McGraw – Personally outside of “Truck Yeah” and “Lookin’ For That Girl”, I’d argue this guy has always belonged here. I’m admittedly not a hardcore traditionalist, but at the same time I’m not extremely liberal with what I consider to be country either. I think Tim has always been a great example of how you can do pop-country right. Smarter lyrics, great vocals, and slick but still enjoyable production. Even if you still don’t like the guy, he helped expose Lori McKenna to a wider audience. Hard to argue against that.
Charlie Worsham – Funny, we’re updating a list from 2013 and that’s the last time we heard from Charlie anyway. His new material is extremely interesting. It’s not gunning for radio play, and whether or not it’s country is up to you to decide. Still, I like it, and while the horns scream of trend chasing to me (just a little), they’re executed well. I’m looking forward to this album.
William Michael Morgan, Maddie and Tae & Mo Pitney – Ah yes, how can we forget the class of traditionalists? You may be wondering where Jon Pardi is, and truth be told, I would have put Jon here up until his last album, an album that I wish I could say I liked. Anyway, a big criticism for these acts is that their lyrical content is a little too dry to really be considered great, and again, that’s fair. However, I also think there are moments in each artist’s discography that go above that. “Missing” from Morgan, “After The Storm Blows Through” from Maddie and Tae, and “Just A Dog” from Mo Pitney…these are all songs that I feel are really good representations of what mainstream country could be like today. Yeah, I know I gave one example for each and didn’t really elaborate on why they belonged, but in the interest of time, they DO belong, and there are more examples I could hurl at you guys. Either way, in my mind they all belong.
Midland – I wouldn’t necessarily put them on this list yet. I’d like to hear more than an EP. However, Mark Wystrach has a dynamite voice, and if that can equate to some great material from the band, I’m all in.
Any others that I forgot?